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Olympic Legacy: 5 Years on from London 2012

ONE of the central themes of London’s winning bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games was a legacy plan that promised to rejuvenate a run-down area of east London and “inspire a generation”. Aware of the failures of some previous Olympics – where stadiums have become white elephants and where Olympic parks have fallen into deserted wastelands after the games – London promised to create a vibrant new community.

Although the 2012 Games were undoubtedly a sporting success, this was an Olympics that should be judged on its legacy. Five years on from the Games we investigate the progress that has been made in turning the site of this one-off sporting event into one of London’s newest communities.

Above: The London Olympics promised to create a lasting legacy, and since the games the site has seen a lot of development (image courtesy of the London Legacy Development Corporation).

Mindful of the aftermath of the 2004 Athens Games and the huge cost of hosting a summer Olympics, great emphasis was placed on how London’s site would be integrated into the city after the event. Legacy plans were put in place for the majority of venues – many of which were demountable – and a clear plan to build housing and create jobs was devised. Here we take a tour around the site to see how well these plans have been put into action.


The main site of the games has been transformed into a public space that is larger than the country of Monaco. Now re-named the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park this 2.5 square kilometer stretch of parkland re-opened a year after the Games completed. It is now well-used by locals and hosts numerous events. In its first year the park welcomed 3.9 million visitors and to date over 15.2 million people have come to the new space.

Above: The new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has welcomed 15.2 million people since it opened (image courtesy of the London Legacy Development Corporation).

Immediately following the games, the park’s two temporary venues were removed. The Water Polo Arena was disassembled with its parts returned back to the supply chain, while the Basketball Arena was dismantled before its seats were incorporated into the new Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre. Five years on from the games, all eight permanent venues within the Olympic Park have a secure legacy, are open and operational.


Whilst the Olympic Stadium was the centerpiece of the Games, its legacy plan didn’t materialize after 2012. Instead of becoming a dedicated athletics venue, the stadium has controversially become the home of Premier League team West Ham United, with the club paying £2M a year to use the building.

Above: Since the Games the Olympic Stadium has become home to West Ham United (image courtesy of the London Legacy Development Corporation).

Renovation works to make the stadium suitable for football cost £323M and reduced its capacity from 80 to 54,000. The original roof and light paddles were inverted and a new permanent roof that covers every seat in the venue was installed. An innovative retractable seating system was also installed, allowing the stadium to continue to host athletic events whilst bringing fans closer to the pitch when configured for football.

In total 5,000 people worked 2 million hours to complete a transformation that has secured the long-term viability of the stadium while retaining it as the national competition venue for UK Athletics. The venue has hosted a wide variety sporting events since the 2012 games; including five Rugby World Cup matches, numerous athletics events and rugby league internationals.

Above: After the Games the stadium was renovated at a cost of £323M (image courtesy of the London Legacy Development Corporation).


Hosting the Handball and Modern Pentathlon Fencing events during the Games, the Copper Box Arena was designed to be a flexible venue from the outset. As such, the building needed very little work to convert it into its legacy mode and it became the first venue to open on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, exactly one year after the Olympics.

Above: The Copper Box is a leading example of how to design a building with legacy in mind (image courtesy of the London Legacy Development Corporation).

The Copper Box is London’s third largest arena and its 7,500 retractable seats make it ideal for a wide range of international and national sporting events, tournaments, shows, exhibitions, concerts and conferences. It is also open to the public as a state-of-the-art gym; is home to the London Lions basketball team; and has had more than 1 million visitors since it re-opened.

The flexibility of its design makes the Copper Box an exemplar of how to plan for a post Games life.


One of the most recognisable venues of the 2012 Games, the Aquatics Centre designed by Zaha Hadid, has been transformed into a public pool. The much-criticized “wings”, which held temporary seating during the Olympics, have been removed to reduce the venue’s capacity from 17,500 to a much more manageable 2,500. Since re-opening in March 2014, over 2.5 million people have visited what must be one of the world’s most architecturally impressive public pools.

Above: The wings have been removed from the Aquatic Centre to reduce the capacity to 2,500 (image courtesy of the London Legacy Development Corporation).


Having witnessed several Team GB gold medal victories during the Games, the velodrome re-opened as the centre piece of the Lee Valley VeloPark in April 2014. The venue continues to host major international cycling events, while the VeloPark is a public centre for road racing, BMX and mountain biking.


Beyond the venues, a key part of the London Olympic legacy plan was the creation of a new residential district. The first wave of new homes has already been delivered with the conversion of the former Athletes’ Village into East Village. Home to 10,500 athletes during the Games, the village has now been converted into 2,818 homes, 1,439 of which are affordable.

Above: The Olympic Athletes Village has been converted into 2,818 homes.

The wider park is set to see five new neighbourhoods established and planning permission has already been granted for 6,800 homes. The first of these neighbourhoods, in the north-east of the Park, is called Chobham Manor. Once complete there will be 828 new homes here, with 75 percent designed for families and around a third designated as affordable. The first residents began moving into this neighbourhood in 2015 and a new school called the Chobham Academy has opened in a building that was used as both a gym and a security hub during the Games.

Chobham Manor will be followed by the development of 870 homes at East Wick and 650 homes at Sweetwater. The development of these sites has been brought forward by six years, with construction set to start in 2017 and the first residents expected to move-in in 2023. The construction of 1,300 homes at Pudding Mill to the south of the site and 780 at Stratford Waterfront alongside the Aquatic Centre are also set to begin in the next decade.


The Legacy Plan also called for a business community to be established in the park and work to date has focused on the former Media Centre. Using the connectivity and IT infrastructure constructed for the games, the building has been converted into a digital hub arranged around one of London’s largest data centres. It’s now an attractive base for big-name tenants such as BT Sport and smaller tech start-ups.


Above: The Olympic Broadcast Centre has become a business hub for tech companies (image courtesy of Tom Ravenscroft).

Careful planning and a dedicated focus on legacy from the outset of the planning of the 2012 Games has ensured that the London Olympic site has not met the same fate as some previous Olympics. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has already become a centre for sports and recreation with the main venues of the Stadium, Aquatics Centre, Velodrone and Copper Box firmly established as publicly accessible spaces that attract millions of visitors each year.

Above: Planning permission has already been granted for 6,800 homes on the Games site (image courtesy of the London Legacy Development Corporation).

Whether the site achieves its aim of becoming a vibrant new district for London will depend on the future development and its new housing neighbourhoods. Although many homes have been planned, increasing prices and declining affordable targets have led some to say that locals are being priced out of these new communities. New districts of course take decades to develop, but at this five year milestone passes, it certainly seems like things are on the right track.  

Images courtesy of London Legacy Development Corporation, Thanassis Stavrakis, Kyodo News/Newscom Report, Sludge G, Simon and his Camera, West Ham United, Imon Q, Helene Binet, David Poultney, Architecture for London, Sheppard Robson, Hawkins Brown, Tom Ravenscroft, and Alvin Leong. We welcome you sharing our content to inspire others, but please be nice and play by our rules.


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